how to check if an idea has been patented
There is no EASY way. If your invention is a new can opener, an existing patent for the same idea may never use the words can opener. For example, it may be described in broader terms: container de-sealer or metal wall scissor. The patent offices classification system helps a bit, but not much. Inventors tend not to want to find their invention, so, they type in --can opener-- and look at a few and say they couldn't find it. You have to look for it like you want to find it. try different search terms. when you find one thats close, look at the references cited in that application and look for other patents wherein the close one was cited.What You Can Patent
A patent provides you with the right to keep others from making and selling your invention for up to 20 years. The most common type of patent, a utility patent, protects rights in new and useful processes, machines and other things. These patents also can protect rights in non-obvious improvements made to existing things. To determine if your invention is patentable, you must first research all previous patents and other publicly disclosed inventions to ensure that no one else has already patented something similar. Because this process can be difficult and complicated, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office recommends hiring a registered patent attorney to conduct the search for you.The Do-It-Yourself Patent Search
If you decide to do the patent search yourself, you have several search methods available: The USPTO (United States Patent Trade Office) Public Search Facility. The USPTO operates a Patent Public Search Facility located in Alexandria, Virginia. Here every U.S. patent granted since 1790 may be searched and examined. Many inventors like to make at least one pilgrimage to the Patent Public Search Facility. It's located fewer than 15 minutes from National Airport by taxi; Metro Rail serves it off the Blue and Yellow lines, King Street Station; and several hotels are within walking distance, so it's easy to get to and around.Patentability Search
If you do a quick search and don't find your idea the next step is to get a professional patent search. Why? Because a professional patent searcher will find the patents that you cannot. If you are an inventor that is interested in making money from your idea you want to know what other people have patented. Almost always it is money well spent. If a professional search turns up patents that are similar to your idea, you can make an informed decision whether you move forward with the idea or not. If nothing turns up in a professional search it can energize you to finish evaluating and developing your idea. Now could be a good time to get a patent. Check out how to patent an invention. Both outcomes are equally important and you should celebrate either one. When you find your great idea has already been patented you can pat yourself on the back for saving thousands of dollars and lots of hours of your time. If your idea turns out to be original and you decide to pursue it, get to work. Inventors really can make a lot of money with an original product idea.Direct-Hire Professional Search
If you want to save lawyer fees and mark-ups, consider going directly to a patent search firm. Searchers are best found through inventor grapevines, inventor associations, or university intellectual property departments. In larger cities, you can also check the Yellow Pages under "patent searchers." But be careful not to fall into a trap set by some disreputable invention marketing organizations. They list themselves in the phone book under "patent searchers" with a toll-free number. This is another way they hook unsuspecting inventors into service contracts. Get all the facts up front. Some reputable searchers ask for money up front if they don't know you. This is understandable. Just be sure you get the cost of the search beforehand, and get—and check—references. The cost to search a utility patent in the Washington, D.C., area runs between $500 and $1,000. It is roughly $100 per hour for a competent search. Once the search has been completed, if you want to obtain an opinion on the patentability of your invention, add the cost of your lawyer. If you need to show a prospective licensee that your invention has a good shot at a patent or that it's unlikely to infringe on an existing product, a letter from competent patent counsel may do the trick.